Children with autism and their families learn about air travel

Posted at 10:05 PM, Oct 18, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-19 00:05:11-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A group of parents booked a special trip for their kids at Salt Lake City International Airport on Friday, and the airport invited the families of children with autism to stop in and take a mock flight.

“It’s exciting, very important,” said Jodie Smith, whose son Jaxon is autistic.

For Smith, a new experience can sometimes bring about a whole new set of challenges for her 8-year-old son.

“He’s having anxiety of when to get on the plane, didn’t know what to expect for him,” Smith said.

In an effort to ease those anxieties, airport staff opened up security lines, terminals and even a plane for families to introduce their kids to a day of traveling.

“One of the things that’s most important for kids with autism is the known, being able to know exactly what is going to happen, what it’s going to look like, what the sounds are like,” said Dr. Jenise Jensen, a pediatric neuropsychologist who helped coordinate the event.

Employees from Delta Airlines, the Transportation Security Administration and the airport worked in conjunction to simulate the experience of traveling for the kids.

“This is a great way for them to have a little experience in a much more relaxed setting than when there’s a plane full of other people that might not be as patient because they want to get where they have to go too, without the crying and fussing,” said Elizabeth Saling.

Both of Saling’s sons have autism and joined her on the plane. In lieu of an upcoming trip, she felt a practice run would be helpful for them.

The group was allowed to board a plane and get a sense for how a flight works and feels. The introduction can make all the difference, according to parents.

“Having a firsthand experience is invaluable for us. This is how he learns,” Saling said.